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Plane violates restricted airspace in Washington


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U.S. Senate briefly recesses as plane violates restricted airspace

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Senate recessed for a brief period Monday night after a Canadian-registered plane entered Washington's restricted airspace, two weeks after another airplane caused emergency evacuations of the White House and Capitol.

The pilot of the earlier plane has now lost his licence as an "unacceptable risk to safety," the Federal Aviation Administration said earlier in the day. There was no evacuation Monday. The private Cessna was intercepted by military jets and later landed in Gaithersburg, Md., north of the capital, the Transportation Security Administration said.

At the Capitol, where senators were heading into an all-night debate over filibusters and judicial nominations, Republican leader Bill Frist called for a recess just after 6 p.m. EDT and left the chamber. Others present did not leave.

Seven minutes later, Capitol Police sent out an e-mail reading:

"An unidentified aircraft violated the restricted airspace and was escorted out of the area."

Soon after, the debate resumed.

The Cessna was intercepted by military jets after it flew into restricted airspace without the required transponder signal, according to Transportation Security Administration spokesman Mark Hatfield.

"There was a Canadian aircraft that had a lightning strike and an electrical failure," said Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman. "They were having radio problems.

She said the plane had changed course to steer around some bad weather.

The FAA is investigating the case, Brown said.

The plane was flying from Knoxville, Tenn. to Gaithersburg, Md., the FAA told the Washington Post.

The government, meanwhile, lifted the pilot's licence of Hayden Sheaffer because of the May 11 errant flight that led to the scrambling of military aircraft and the panicked evacuation of thousands of people.

Sheaffer's passenger, 36-year-old Troy Martin, who had logged only 30 hours of flight time, was flying the plane when the military aircraft intercepted it, the FAA said.

Revoking Sheaffer's licence "reflects the seriousness in which we view all restricted airspace violations and, in this case, the level of incursion into restricted airspace," FAA spokesman Greg Martin said.

According to the FAA, Sheaffer, 69, wasn't even supposed to have a passenger in the single-engine Cessna in the first place. He hadn't met the requirement to do so: three takeoffs and three landings within the previous 90 days of the flight.

He didn't take the most basic steps required of pilots before flying a plane, the FAA said. He failed to check the weather report before leaving Smoketown, Pa., and he didn't check the FAA's Notices to Airmen, which informs pilots of airspace restrictions and how to respond to a military aircraft.

When he got lost, he didn't call air traffic control or a flight service station to establish his location, the FAA said.

The plane was intercepted by a U.S. Customs Service Black Hawk helicopter and a Citation jet, and then by two F-16 fighters that dropped four flares.

"At no time during any of these events did you exercise the judgment to take physical control or command of the aircraft from your inexperienced passenger," the FAA said.

Though hundreds of people have mistakenly flown into Washington's restricted airspace, the FAA rarely revokes a pilot's licence for such an offence. In Sheaffer's case, the agency determined Sheaffer "constitutes an unacceptable risk to safety in air commerce."

The agency said no action would be taken against Martin.


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These Americans are getting a little ridiculous if you ask me. If it is true that the aircraft was struck by lightning and deviating around weather without radios or a transponder, then who gives a flying %$^& if they brushed into the airspace around DC. How much damage could a 172 do anyway?

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